Hot Pursuit

The New York Mets just had their NL East lead cut significantly as they were swept by their closest pursuer. Now their next-closest challenger hopes to make it dwindle further.

The slumping Mets hope to avoid their longest losing streak in nearly six years when they face Tim Hudson and the Atlanta Braves on Friday night to open a key divisional series.

New York (73-60) saw its division lead shrink to two games on second-place Philadelphia with a wild 11-10 loss Thursday, completing a four-game sweep by the Phillies. The loss also moved the third-place Braves 4 1/2 games behind the Mets, who have tied a season high by losing five straight.

New York has not dropped six games in a row since Sept. 5-10, 2005. Its division lead was up to seven games over both the Braves and Phillies before this losing streak began.

"We'll bounce back," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "We're not going to fold any tents."

Randolph's club has lost all four series it has played this season against the Braves, going 4-8 overall and losing four of six meetings at Turner Field. The Mets have failed to score more than three runs in any of their last five games in Atlanta.

Oddsmakers from have made Atlanta -145 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 8.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 60% of bets for this game have been placed on Atlanta -145 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

"We've got to win some games, it's as simple as that," Braves manager Bobby Cox told the team's official Web site. "There's no magic formula. If we win, we know we're doing something right."

The Mets have not fared well against Hudson (15-6, 3.23 ERA), who is 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 10 career starts against them. Hudson, tied with San Diego's Jake Peavy for the league lead in wins, has been even better against the Mets this season, winning both of his starts with a 1.93 ERA.

Atlanta had won 11 straight starts made by Hudson, a stretch during which he went 9-0 with a 2.57 ERA, before the right-hander struggled in a 5-4 loss at St. Louis on Sunday. He squandered a three-run lead for the first time in 76 starts, allowing five runs and nine hits in five innings.

"I think any frontline starter in baseball, if you give them three runs, they should feel like they should win," said Hudson, who lost for the first time since June 19.

He'll be opposed by John Maine (13-8, 3.68), who struggled in his only career start against the Braves. The right-hander surrendered six runs and seven hits, including two homers, in 5 1-3 innings of a 7-6 home loss to Atlanta on Aug. 9.

Maine is coming off another shaky outing as he gave up six runs - three earned - and nine hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 6-2 loss to Los Angeles. He's gone 1-3 with a 7.77 ERA in five starts this month.

"The only thing I can really control is what pitch I throw and how I do it," Maine told the team's official Web site. "And I felt like I've done a good job of that, but it just hasn't happened."

Maine, though, has been very good on the road for much of this season, going 8-2 with a 3.42 ERA in 12 starts.

He'll have to contend with Braves slugger Chipper Jones, who hit a three-run homer off Maine on Aug. 9. Jones has two homers and 11 RBIs in his last six games overall.

Jones' 38 home runs against the Mets are his most versus any team, and he's hit .331 with 118 RBIs in 174 career games against them. The veteran third baseman went 6-for-13 with a homer and five RBIs in the most recent series between the teams from Aug. 7-9, and the Braves won two of three.

About the only hot hitter for the Mets has been Carlos Delgado, who is 7-for-20 (.350) with a home run and six RBIs during the five-game skid. He is one of the Mets' better hitters against Hudson with a .313 batting average and five home runs.

by: Michael Cash - – Email Us

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